Ghouls on Grounds: ‘Mean Jean’ and Scares in the Stacks

September 28, 2023 By Alice Berry, Alice Berry,

Opening Alderman Library was typically routine for Will Wyatt. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, he’d walk through the stacks early in the morning, turning on lights before students started filing in to study. There was only darkness in front of him as he flipped switches on a mezzanine floor.

Then, one morning in 2015, he saw something he had never seen before.

“A short, older woman with long fluffy white hair appeared out of the stacks,” Wyatt, now a public services manager for the main library, said. “She just looked up at me and said, ‘It's very quiet up here. This would be a great place to murder somebody.’”

Wyatt just laughed nervously and continued flipping the lights on as he moved down the stacks. He said neither he nor any other library employees saw the woman leave the building or has seen her ever since.

Initially, he wasn’t sure what he had seen. He told a fellow student worker about the figure that he had come across, but he felt “silly” telling his supervisor. Plus, he’d never really believed in ghosts. He had never experienced anything like that morning in 2015 before.

“I thought that somehow, someone had gotten into the library,” Wyatt said.

But only staff had access to the library before opening, through special cards that they swiped to enter the building. Eventually, he concluded that he had seen a ghost.

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The woman Wyatt saw is far from the only phantom that people claim to have seen at the University. UVA is chock full of ghosts, according to some – the website Higher Ed Dive even listed it among the 10 most haunted universities in the United States.

For National Ghost Hunting Day, here are a few places you might find ghosts on Grounds.

Alderman Library

The apparition Wyatt reported is one of three ghosts believed to inhabit Alderman Library. Another is Bennett Wood Green, a Confederate surgeon whose books were donated to the library after his death in 1913. Those books were originally kept in the Rotunda, which served as the University’s library until 1938. When the books moved, so did the doctor, according to legend.

The last ghost believed to haunt the main library is also keeping an eye on some books. The Garnett Room houses a collection of books donated by the family of Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett, and some say the family physician is the reason why the tomes were in pristine condition even though they were abandoned for years before coming into UVA’s possession.

Old Cabell Hall

Another ghost is believed to have taken up residence in Old Cabell Hall. Music department employees have noticed that, on occasion, the smell of a woman’s perfume would waft into the room where they worked from seemingly nowhere.

Black and white photo of a steep stairwell in Old Cabell Hall
Stairs that lead nowhere aren’t the only creepy thing inside Old Cabell Hall. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

They attributed it to a woman called “Mean Jean,” a housekeeper who was fastidious about the building’s order and resented anyone who made a mess in Old Cabell. According to legend, she was found dead in her uniform waiting for a ride to work. Perhaps, as a ghost, she found one. Employees in the building attribute slamming doors and a woman’s laughter to her.

West Range

One of UVA’s most famous students, Edgar Allan Poe, left the University deep in debt. He is also believed to have left a mysterious message on the windowpanes of his room (Room 13, according to lore) on the West Range:

“O Thou timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
Unhallowed walls,
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.”

Pavilion VI

Pavilion VI, also known as the Romance Pavilion, supposedly got its name for the romantic (or creepy) ghost stories that supposedly took place inside.

One story goes that a professor died there in the mid-1800s, and his widow refused to leave their home on the Lawn. She left his corpse sitting by the window, even changing his clothes daily, until the professor’s death was discovered and she was forced to find a new residence.

Another story involves the daughter of a professor. She fell in love with a student her parents did not approve of, and they broke the young lovers up. The daughter supposedly died of a broken heart, and haunts the pavilion to this day.

In reality, the pavilion got its nickname because the Romance languages used to be taught there.

Wyatt, the librarian, isn’t looking to hunt any ghosts himself today. Alderman Library, where he works, is set to reopen in early 2024. He has a plan if he sees the same figure from 2015.

“I’m going to try to make nice with her,” he said.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications